Paraprofessional counselling
: the effectiveness and development o f a group of volunteer mental health counsellors

  • Joe Armstrong

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Background: Existing research findings provide evidence for the general effectiveness of paraprofessional counsellors. However, research into the effectiveness of paraprofessional counsellors with specific client opulations is lacking, and we currently know little about the processes of development in this group of practitioners. To address these issues, two empirical studies were carried out.

    Aim o f Study 1: To evaluate the effectiveness of a group of 12 minimally trained/experienced volunteer mental health counsellors. Method: Data were collected over a one year period on 118 clients referred to a voluntary sector counselling agency. The CORE-OM was used to measure clients' levels of distress on a sessionby-session basis. Clients and counsellors also completed a range of additional selfreport measures before and after counselling. A benchmarking strategy was used to evaluate the outcomes achieved by participants in this study against three benchmark studies selected from published literature. Results: Paraprofessionals in this study achieved an effect size of .70 compared to effect sizes of 1.36, 1.39 and 1.42 in the selected benchmark studies. Conclusions: Minimally trained/experienced paraprofessional counsellors working in mental health settings may benefit from more targeted training before engaging in practice. Findings should be interpreted cautiously as the selected benchmarks may not reflect the organisational factors operating within all voluntary sector counselling agencies.

    Aims of Study 2: To explore the meaning and experience of becoming a paraprofessional counsellor. Participants: The sample included two men and six women. Method: Each participant was interviewed for approximately one hour at the end of their first year of practice. Data analysis: Data were analysed using a grounded theory approach. Results: Four main categories and a core category were identified. The core category of ‘finding a voice’ represented participant attempts to achieve and sustain an identity as a counsellor. This process involved four related experiences: 1) resonating with counselling and the role of counsellor, the agency ethos and values and the theoretical model employed within the agency; 2) learning the language of counselling; 3) putting the language of counselling into action; and 4) experiencing
    and resolving dissonant experiences. Conclusions: Findings contribute new understanding to existing models of counsellor development regarding the developmental processes that occur in counsellors prior to the period of professional training.

    Data from Study 1 and Study 2 were also examined to determine if individual differences existed among participants in terms of their effectiveness, personal philosophies, and counselling practice. Findings showed that counsellors varied in their effectiveness with effect sizes ranging from .96 for the more effective counsellor to .21 for the least effective counsellor. Differences in levels of effectiveness were most apparent at the extremes of the three more effective and the three less effective counsellors. Preliminary findings suggested that the more effective counsellors could be distinguished from the less effective counsellors by the emphasis they placed on the relational aspects of counselling, flexibility, working collaboratively with clients, and by the degree of ‘fit’ that existed between their personal philosophy and the model of counselling preferred with the MHSS agency. Implications of these findings are discussed in section 7.4 of Chapter 7.

    Date of AwardMar 2011
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJohn McLeod (Supervisor)

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